Chefs whip up foodie businesses on the side

The pancetta is from a Southwark sous chef.
The pancetta is from a Southwark sous chef. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 26, 2012

Marcie Turney, the culinary sovereign of the 13th Street restaurant row, spent the month of December hand-dipping chocolates.

Her line of highbrow cocoa treats, Marcie Blaine, had so many holiday orders this year she had to recruit line chefs from two of her restaurants, Lolita and Barbuzzo, just to keep up. "Next year we need to hire a packing team," she says.

Turney isn't the only area chef stepping out of the kitchen to create food-focused side businesses. Take a closer look at the bag of coffee, slab of bacon, and jar of pickles you picked up at the gourmet market - it might be coming from your favorite local chef.

This concept isn't necessarily new - savvy chefs have been branding their sauces, spices, and rubs for decades, or slapping a private label on batch goods.

Years ago, Georges Perrier bolstered his Le Bec-Fin brand by selling his airy-crumbed baguette, picture-perfect petit fours, and buttery breakfast pastries to other retail and restaurant locations. His fans can now start the day with a Le Bec ham and cheese croissant at Di Bruno Bros., or head out to his new boulangerie, the Art of Bread, on the Main Line.

But this new crop of products falls in line with the current obsession with all things small-batch, artisanal, and homespun. For these creators, it's less about brand extension, more about passion projects that they hope one day might pay off big.

Jonathan Adams, the chef at Pub & Kitchen, opened Rival Bros, a coffee roaster and truck, with childhood friend Damien Pileggi a few months ago. "I have bar napkins from when we were 20, with sketches of our plans," Adams says. As he worked his way through kitchens, Pileggi learned the bean biz at La Colombe.

They roast the coffee in a commissary in the Northeast, and take turns manning the truck, which can be found at LOVE Park many mornings.

They hope the retail side of Rival takes off. (The beans are currently sold at the truck and through their website.)

Detroit native Scott Schroeder, chef of the South Philadelphia Tap Room and American Sardine Bar, thinks Philadelphia needs better hot dogs, more like the franks served in his hometown.

That was the impetus for creating Scott Dogs, his fledgling, one-off hot dog company and cart. He has been working with a butcher to get the right meat blend, has been hired for a few private events, and will be hitting Headhouse Farmers' Market this spring. Once the product is perfect, he wants to package and sell his dogs to area restaurants.

Passion is a plus, but there's no denying the dreams of hitting it big with these ventures. "I'm going to retire in the coffee business," Adams jokes. "This is my 401(k)."

For Turney, the chocolate line was an important element of the shelter store Verde she opened with partner Valerie Safran. But Marcie Blaine chocolate has the potential to have a life of its own. "We are always looking for the next thing that isn't opening a restaurant," Turney says. "I don't need to be working 12 to 14 hours a day."

Nick Macri, a sous chef at Southwark restaurant, has been selling his charcuterie under the restaurant's name to a few area restaurants and retail outlets, such as Fair Food Farmstand.

His company, once official, will be called La Divisa Meats, and his plan is to open a shop where he can sell his copa, pancetta, lomo, and salumi by the pound, as well as a slew of sandwiches. "I've wanted to do this since culinary school," Macri says. "The restaurant thing is a way to hone what I'm doing."

The owners of Wishing Well in South Philly teamed up with chef Mark Coates of the Smoke Truck to roll out North South Provisions, which makes pickled vegetables, charcuterie, and a housemade smoked salmon cream cheese, which they sell to a coffee shop.

Fond BYOB co-owner Jessie Prawlucki just opened Belle Cakery, where she'll sell her sweets.

The fact that chefs can whip up their foodstuffs in their certified restaurant kitchens makes it easier to run two businesses. Having supportive bosses also helps.

John Longacre owns the two restaurants that Schroeder cooks at, and is a partner in Scott Dogs. Pub & Kitchen co-owners Ed Hackett and Dan Clark helped Adams with his business plan and insisted on serving Rival Bros coffee at the restaurant. If the products are successful, the owners can only benefit from some smart cross-branding.

"The hot dogs are the focus and the cart is a promotion for that," says Schroeder, but, he adds, "it's an attention-getter for me and the restaurants."

On the other end, these made-with-love goods are bolstering the "Buy Local" and artisanal cred for some local retailers.

Places such as Di Bruno Bros., the Foodery, and the Fair Food Farmstand sell the products.

Green Aisle Grocery in South Philly has made its name on selling a bevy of chef-concocted products such as hummus from Zahav, ragu from Le Virtu, sausage from Brauhaus Schmitz, and chili from Cafe con Chocolate, to name a few.

"We try to have the best of the best," says co-owner Andrew Erace. "It's not only a means for the chefs to branch out, but it is a true service for the neighborhood."

An out-of-towner once came to the store to buy four tubs of Zahav hummus after eating a meal there, before heading home.

Of course, Turney notes, you have to be careful what you wish for. She just sent off samples of her chocolate to Bon Appetit magazine. "We are a little scared," she says. They aren't quite ready to be a chocolate factory just yet.


Pork Rolls Stuffed With Ricotta and Spinach

Makes 4 servings

8 ounces spinach, stemmed and finely chopped

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

1 pound boneless pork loin,  sliced into 8 pieces

8 thin slices pancetta

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

   1. In a medium bowl, combine the spinach and ricotta and stir to blend. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Set aside.

   2. Place a slice of pork between 2 pieces of parchment paper, and roll with a rolling pin until flattened to an even thickness, about 1/8 inch. Repeat to flatten the remaining slices. Spread a thin layer of the spinach mixture on top of a slice of pork, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Roll it and wrap with a slice of pancetta, then fasten with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining pork, filling, and pancetta.

   3. In a large, heavy saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and sear the rolls for about 2 minutes on each side. Add the wine and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer briskly for 7 to 8 minutes, turning the rolls once or twice to heat them through. Serve at once.

- From Cucina Provera (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)

Per serving: 457 calories, 39 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 26 grams fat, 106 milligrams cholesterol, 434 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Beef Stew With Coffee

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound, 5 ounces lean  stewing steak, cut into cubes

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 green bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thickly sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons dry white wine

5 tablespoons brewed coffee

Salt and pepper

   1. Heat the oil in a pan, add the meat, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned all over. Remove the meat with a slotted spatula and keep warm.

   2. Add the onions, garlic, and bell peppers to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually stir in the wine and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

   3. Return the meat to the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and cook for 1 hour or until the meet is tender. Serve.

- From

The Silver Spoon (Phaidon Press Limited, 2005)

Per serving: 362 calories, 35 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, no cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Mocha Cake

Makes 6 servings

For the cake:

Sweet butter, for greasing

Scant 1 cup all-purpose flour,  plus extra for dusting

4 eggs, separated

1/2 cup superfine sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon

For the syrup:

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1/2 cup brandy

For the coffee cream:

Scant 1 cup sweet butter, softened

3 egg yolks

1 cup freshly brewed strong  coffee

11/4 cups confectioner's sugar

To decorate:

1/2 cup blanched almonds, roasted

1/4 cup candied cherries

   1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cake pan with butter and lightly dust with flour. To make the cake, beat the egg yolks with the superfine sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until the mixture has tripled in volume. Whisk the egg whites in a grease-free bowl until stiff, and fold into the mixture. Sift in the flour, stirring gently. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let stand in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

   2. To make the syrup, put the superfine sugar in a small pan, add 4 tablespoons water, and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has been dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add the brandy, and let cool.

   3. To make the coffee cream, cream the butter in a bowl until light and smooth, then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Beat in the coffee and confectioner's sugar. Set 1 tablespoon of the cream aside.

   4. Slice the cake in half horizontally. Sprinkle the lower half with one-third of the syrup and spread with one-third of the cream. Top with the other half of the cake, spoon the remaining syrup over the top and sides, and spread all except the reserved tablespoon of cream over the top and sides. Decorate the sides with the almonds and arrange the candied cherries and swirls of the reserved coffee cream on top.

- From The Silver Spoon (Phaidon Press Limited, 2005)

Per serving: 710 calories, 9 grams protein, 71 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams sugar, 40 grams fat, 310 milligrams cholesterol, 264 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244, aprimis@phillynews.com, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.

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